Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

Estonian man casts first online vote in EU history

  • EU history was made in Brussels at 8.00 on Thursday morning (Photo: EUobserver)

An Estonian man has become the first person in EU history to vote online, as internet campaigns make their mark on the 2009 elections. But a throwback in Northern Ireland has seen canvassers threatened with a gun.

Vahur Orrin from Tallinn cast his vote in Brussels one second after the virtual polling station opened at 8.00am local time, with the moment captured on video for the YouTube file-sharing website.

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Voting has also begun early in Finland and Sweden, with Nordic and Baltic countries leading the game in terms of helping geographically-scattered voters cast remote ballots. The Lithuanian government has in another first also opted to give official media accreditation to bloggers covering the vote.

In France, centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy has attracted 106,000 "friends" on his personal page on the Facebook social networking site. His nearest rival in terms of online popularity is far-left leader Olivier Besancourt with 17,000 friends.

In the 'real world,' Mr Sarkozy's UMP party is leading polls on 26 percent, while his nearest rival, the centre left Socialist party, trails on 19 percent.

A Czech Facebook page called "Let's throw eggs at Paroubek everywhere" has 40,000 followers. The campaign aims to punish the centre-left CSSD party leader for engineering the fall of the centre-right government while it occupied the prestigious EU presidency chair.

Egg-throwing began two weeks ago, with Mr Paroubek occasionally losing his cool and calling assailants "Nazis." On Wednesday, he was hit by 10 eggs while on the rostrum. On Tuesday, six eggs hit home.

Several commercial companies and NGOs are also trying to raise their profile by launching MEP-rating websites. PR firm Burson-Marsteller has launched tweetelect09.eu, to bring together EU election-related "tweets" - the modish short messaging service where users post updates just 140 characters long.

Twitter hit the headlines in Germany this week when it emerged that officials leaked via tweets the result of the German presidential election before it was officially published.

Some politicians are focusing on traditional media, however. Spanish TV stations on Wednesday evening beamed the face of centre-left PM Jose Luis Zapatero across airwaves as he sat watching Barcelona play Manchester United in the European football championship finals.

With the Spanish side winning 2-0, Mr Zapatero afterwards lavished praise on the Spanish side in interviews. National pride could help his side nose ahead of the opposition People's Party, with the pair neck-and-neck in polls.

In Poland, the right-wing Roman Catholic Radio Maryja has begun broadcasting a regular "Euroleksykon" programme in which Professor Jerzy Nowak lays out genealogies saying that many centre-right or centre-left MEP candidates have Jewish blood.

Jaded fishermen

The various efforts are doing little to boost voter interest in the EU elections, however.

An SFZ/FFS poll has found that 60 percent of the 350 million eligible EU voters believe politicians are lying in their campaigns, with cynicism the strongest in Finland, Germany, France and the UK but mildest in Spain.

A TNS Sofres survey for Le Monde shows 57 percent of people are not interested in voting. Pollsters from Ipsos told the paper that the recession is playing a role. "These elections are not the French people's [main] preoccupation," one expert said.

Scottish fishermen in Peterhead Harbour told The Times that EU fishing quotas have destroyed their business over the past 30 years. "I'll probably write on the ballot paper 'None of the rogues above'," Paul Jennings said.

The EU vote could have a strong impact in Germany even if voters stay home, with German papers suggesting that the event is a dry run for national elections in July. Predict09 says the centre-right CDU and CSU parties will clock up 34.7 percent (10 percent less than in 2004), while the Social Democrat opposition is to get 30 percent.

Crime and creativity

Danish Social Liberal MEP candidate Carsten Nielsen has demonstrated that creative election ideas are not limited to the internet. Ms Nielsen is calling for the EU to set up 10 "superhospitals" to treat rare diseases, with access for all EU citizens.

Bulgarian would-be MEP and former football and steel tycoon Alexander Tomov has shown a different type of creativity. Mr Tomov's registration as a candidate with his personal "Bulgarian Social Democracy" party has given him temporary immunity from an €18 million embezzlement case.

Amid the internet-fueled atmosphere of modernity around the EU vote, canvassers for the moderate republican SDLP party in Northern Ireland awakened old demons while visiting a pro-republican housing estate in County Armagh.

A masked man with a gun threatened the group on its walkabout in an apparent throwback to the sectarian conflicts of previous decades.

"Let me make this very clear to those people who think they can intimidate me or my party - they will not," SDLP councilor Dolores Kelly said.

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